The logical comparison to this Shakespeare-in-the-Park is not the Public's more established revival of the bard's genius at Central Park's Delacorte Theater. The Classical Theater of Harlem's stunning Romeo & Juliet most resembles in theme the play Holler If Ya Hear Me, inspired by the demise of Tupac Shakur. Each has a clear message about the horrors of gang violence, and with the work of very talented artists, illustrates the havoc done by such violence, on human values, identity, and life's pleasures, like love.
On a recent evening, the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater was hot. In Shakespeare's time, the tropes of love were well defined: Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight, and are sickened by its obsessive hold. Their love is doomed by rivalry and warfare. No spoiler here: they die in a heap atop one another. As superbly staged by CTH with sets by Anka Lupes, Juliet's famed balcony is part of a brick building; other neighborhood haunts all adorned with symbols, a heart, a cross, come live, sometimes eerily, as the natural light ebbs to night. Lakai Worrell's choreography is first rate. Providing a supernatural feel, lit up "ancestors" dance in doorways. Under z direction, the ensemble keeps the poetry forefront. Acting standouts include Sheldon Best and Natalie Paul as the young lovers, Zainab Jah as Sister Laurence, Jamie Rezanour as Nurse, CTH's fight choreographer Emmanel Brown as Tybalt, and CTH's artistic producer Ty Jones as his foil Mercutio.
At play's end, Jones assured the crowd of CTH's commitment to ensuring that Harlem continue its place as a destination for summer Shakespeare, and posed for pictures with Brooklyn 99's Andre Braugher, who managed to catch the play late in its run at Marcus Garvey Park. Alas, R&J will close this week, so a word to the wise, don't miss it.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.